March 22, 2010

10,000 Hours

Have you heard that saying that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to make someone an expert? I was wondering where that came from and if it were true. Malcolm Gladwell refers to it in his book Outliers (which I have not yet read), and it’s from the work of Anders Ericsson, Michael Prietula, and Edward Cokely.

What they say is that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to make an expert at something. That’s 10 years of practicing 3 hours a day, every day. If you don’t practice 3 hours a day, it takes longer than 10 years.

And, they say, it can’t be just going out at doing the thing. It has to be deliberate practice. You can’t just coast on what you already know and are proficient at. You have to continue to challenge yourself every day, every session.

That’s where a good coach or mentor comes in. You need someone who is an expert themselves to challenge you and guide you. When you’re young and just starting out, it can be your local coach, but as you get better, your coach has to also change to be better, and by the time you’re approaching expertise, they also need to be at that level.

The bottom line is that no short cut will make you an expert in less time. You can pretend to be an expert, but that does not make you a true expert. The heartening news is that gender or race or whatever does not limit expertise. The only limits there are are physical limits of height and size to be an expert in certain sports. It’s all about the time and effort you put in.

This idea correlates well with the one that says it takes 10 years to become “a published author” (however you want to take that). You aren’t an expert writer until you’ve put in the time and effort. It’s not something you can just pick up. And readers know whether you’re an expert, whether you’ve put in the time to learn your craft and the time on this particular project.

All this is strangely heartening to me ~ because I’ve always said I could be pigheaded. I have and continue to put in the effort and the time when I can wrest it from the world. That is something I can control. Not that I’m anywhere near an expert, but I think I’m making progress.

What I’m Reading Today: I finished The Mistress’s Daughter. An amazingly brave book. I wasn’t satisfied with its structure ~ the last two parts weren’t as compelling as the first, and the end seemed to be trying a little too hard for a happy resolution to what came before, without the before’s superb development. But the story and A.M. Homes’s telling of it was riveting.

PS A form rejection on a story this weekend.

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